The Elephant In The Room

April 11, 2009

On Thursday, I was chatting with Jim Sinur over the big issues affecting our industry. I suggested that what we need at the next Summit was to get people to start seeing these big issues … the ones that BPM is only tangentially starting to address. So the ides was to have a combative session where we bounce around the big things that seem to go largely unmentioned. The idea is that we discuss the major trends and big problems associated with long-term success of BPM. So here are a few that I proffered on the call (you’ll notice these ideas are sort of related).

  1. Organizations are struggling to drive wider adoption of process management? The average number of Processes under Management in a typical BPM site is probably 5 or less; I think we would all agree that more than 10 is unusual. While there may be some cases of organization with over 20 or even 50, the reality is that there is little widespread adoption inside your average large organization (although some are starting to grapple with that problem). Why is that? Because the effort required to standardize the processes and deal with all the data and artifacts is just too great. Yet at the same time, the number of spreadsheets used to coordinate work in those same organizations is numbered in the thousands (or at least hundreds). Every one of those spreadsheets represents and opportunity to manage and improve organizational performance. There are lots of issues that are associated with the broad base adoption I am suggesting here … education and training are key.
  2. The emergence of Case Handling as a dominant design approach in the BPM. Today, too much emphasis is placed on the purely transactional, procedural end of the process spectrum. Not enough on the needs of workers. If you like, we need the same rigor that was applied to ERP implementation now to be applied to all the other stuff in the firm.
  3. Value chain optimization trumps behind the firewall efficiency! Some organizations are experimenting with processes that span organizational boundaries (i.e. outside the corporate firewall). This is driving innovation as firms come to grips that they are part of a wider value chain. Suppliers and partners need to collaborate, as they coordinate their efforts they are using processes to work with each other. In turn, I believe that this trend is going to drive adoption of SaaS-oriented BPM solutions.
  4. Innovation is occurring in both thinking, and technology to support the needs of knowledge workers (like you and I). Not only do we need more accessible products (who wants to rely on the IT department to hold your hand), but we need new ways of thinking about process and collaboration.

And then there are a few Problems we all need to deal with if we are to get success.

  1. Deal with the Politics First – it’s an absolute waste of time trying to move forward with a BPM initiative if you haven’t got your ducks in a row. I would posit that one of the reasons why a CoE approach tends to be more successful than one-off BPM projects is precisely because of the organizational buy-in required to create that sort of entity. However, the fact remains that a CoE is major overhead on your first BPM project; establishing a CoE is an evolutionary step on the path toward BPM Nirvana. Managers should address this issue early on to avoid disappointment. This is as much about ensuring that the process is rooted in the organization appropriately.
  2. It is people, not computers that drive innovation (contentious issue I know). BPM Vendors need to get off their soap-box; they need to avoid the “add water and stir” flavor in their marketing.
  3. Resource management – I mentioned it earlier, but there are just not enough good people with knowledge and expertise available. Where are the skills going to come from? I would suggest it is much better to train your own (growing your own capabilities) rather than assuming that some outsource provider will give you the resources at the right time. I bet you were thinking abotu your project team resources … I am talking about within the business itself. As an industry, we have spent so long conspiring to keep the business professional in the dark, yet now they need to grapple with how things get done around here (one of the best definitions of a Business Process I have heard was from Howard Rheingold … “The Way Things Get done Around Here”). Point is, you cannot outsource change.

Do some of these themes resonate. I am sure there are  other “Elephants In The Room” that the industry needs to grapple with. What do you think?

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